Cabinet formation renews infighting in Madhya Pradesh Congress

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N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

Cabinet formation in Madhya Pradesh has renewed infighting not only in the ruling Congress party but in former chief minister Digvijaya Singh’s family also. With Chhindwara MP Kamal Nath appointed as the PCC president and Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia as the chairman of the Campaign Committee, the party had displayed a semblance of unity during the Assembly election campaign after a long time. The selection of candidates was without much hassle, unlike in 2008 and 2013. It appeared that it would sail smoothly if it got majority and formed the government. Voters of the State, though, did not trust the party fully and gave it 114 seats, two short of a clear majority, in a House of 230. The BJP won 109 seats. With the support of four independents, two BSP members and one SP member (total 121), the Congress staked the claim and was invited by Governor Anandiben Patel to form the government.

The unity which was visible during the campaign started dissolving. After an exercise lasting several days and with the intervention of party president Rahul Gandhi, Kamal Nath was declared to be the Leader of Congress Legislature Party (CLP). He was sworn in as Chief Minister. Selection of members of the Council of Ministers proved to be a tortuous task. The week-long efforts by Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh in Bhopal and Delhi failed to produce an agreed list. The intervention of Rahul Gandhi was of not much help. The only point of agreement was that those who had won for the first time would not be inducted into the Council of Ministers.

The problem, it was said, arose because of Digvijaya Singh’s insistence that his son Jaivardhan Singh (who has won from Raghogarh constituency for the second time) should be given the cabinet rank. This prompted Scindia to push some names of his own supporters. Ultimately, the three agreed on 28 names — 22 of them first entrants to the Council of Ministers and only six old hands who had served as ministers in the past. Exasperated by claims and counter-claims of Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kamal Nath then announced cabinet rank for all the 28 ministers.

This was followed by public protests including chakka jam (road-block) by some senior members of the party who were hopeful of getting berths in the cabinet but were ignored. A former minister said that he was told to get ready for swearing in and he had organised a celebration meal at his residence for his workers but at the last moment his name was dropped causing so much embarrassment to him. One of the four independents was made a minister, leaving the other three sulking. Public dissatisfaction was displayed by the lone SP MLA and two BSP MLAs.

When it came to the allotment of portfolios to the ministers, the Congress was jolly well at its old game of full blown infighting. While Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia fought for important departments for their supporters, Chief Minister Kamal Nath appeared a helpless spectator. No other Congress leader has as much grip over State’s politics as Digvijaya Singh. This gives him immense power of manipulation. Kamal Nath has to mainly depend on him. The problem with Kamal Nath is that he has never been active in State politics, keeping himself confined to Chhindwara which he has been representing in Lok Sabha since 1980 except for one term. While he gets along well with Scindia also, his relationship with Digvijaya Singh is much deeper as both of them were protégés of the late Arjun Singh. (The decision on portfolios could not be arrived at till the evening of December 28).

Among the senior party leaders left out of the cabinet is Lakshman Singh, younger brother of Digvijaya Singh. Lakshman Singh has been elected to the State Assembly for the third time and was also a member of Lok Sabha for five terms. He was a claimant to a berth in the cabinet but Digvijaya Singh was said to have insisted only on his son’s inclusion. This appeared to have renewed the bitterness in the Raghogarh household which Digvijaya Singh was able to adroitly paper over in the past few months.

The tension in the Raghogarh family had started when Digvijaya Singh married Amrita Rai in 2015, not long after the death of his first wife Asha Singh. His marriage was opposed by his son and daughters, but more bitterly by Lakshman Singh and his wife Rubina Sharma Singh. Rubina is Lakshman Singh’s second wife. The major cause of Rubina’s bitterness was that Digvijaya Singh had opposed tooth and nail Lakshman’s marriage to Rubina on the ground that she was not of their Thakur caste; and now Digvijaya Singh was marrying Amrita Rai who was also not a Thakur. Property, too, was said to be behind the family feud. Digvijaya Singh has not yet been able to visit Raghogarh after his marriage to Amrita Rai.

Master of manipulation as he is, Digvijaya Singh had managed to appease Lakshman Singh and Rubina and a semi-normal relationship was re-established in the family. Digvijaya Singh and Amrita were said to have invited Lakshman Singh and Rubina over lunch in their Delhi residence.

Digvijaya Singh’s “refusal” to get his younger brother included in the cabinet has rekindled the old bitterness. In her comment on a post in Facebook, Rubina Sharma Singh observed: Digvijaya Singh “has a serious insecurity problem. Can’t stand it that Lakshman wins elections. You should have seen what all was done to try and to make him lose. Absolutely pathetic!” She also scotched the rumours that Lakshman Singh would contest for Lok Sabha.

N D Sharma
N D Sharma
is a senior journalist, and Patron of eNewsroom India.

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